In February, my company opened its seventh self-storage location in a city with a population of about 60,000. The site is already 47% full, but June and July lease-ups were slower than expected, so I decided to take a deeper look at our customer base and re-examine our marketing strategies. While everyone is going full bore on the internet, I’d like to make an argument for a good, old-fashioned advertising approach: the bus-stop bench!
First, let me walk you through the particulars of this new property. We’re on the state line, with a river running between our city and a large metropolis. With a traffic count on our frontage of 17,000 per day, our initial plan was to draw about 50% of customers from across the river. After looking at our current tenants, though, we now know we’re pulling just 8% from over the bridge.
Part of the problem is we’re in the farthest corner of the city. It’s an older area comprised of distinct demographics. For example, there’s a high Italian and Spanish population as well as a techie/entertainment area. This is all within a two- to five-mile radius.
On the bright side, competition is limited, with most being multi-story, climate-controlled facilities. There’s more than enough market to support all locations, including ours. Unless someone finds a suitable building to convert, there’s no available ground for additional drive-up self-storage of any size.
Why Bus-Stop Benches?
We’re satisfied with all of our marketing strategies for this self-storage location, including some digital options; but to gain an edge, I decided to take a look at bus-stop bench advertising. Turns out, it offers some distinct advantages:
- It’s cost-effective. While billboards cost $500 to $3,000 per month depending on location, advertising on a bus-stop bench runs $111 to $120 per month.
- Being at drivers’ eye level, bus-stop benches are readily visible. Just remember that sign location and placement are important as well as road speed. Though the traffic count at a location might be 16,000 per day, you might only catch the eye of half or even a quarter.
- Bus stops are everywhere, making it easy to target specific neighborhoods.
- They’re easy to implement. A bench sign can be up and running in two weeks on either a monthly or annual lease.
- They offer flexibility. For example, on a one-year contract, I can have a bench sign moved to another location for only $25.
Keep in mind, you’re never going to find a direct correlation between a bench advertisement and new renters. Prospective customers will notice your sign for the first week or two, but then it just becomes part of the visual “noise” on their drive. What they don’t realize is the ad will stick in their mind. When the need for self-storage eventually arises, they’ll remember the facility name, Google it, and call.
When advertising on bus-stop benches, there are quite a few things to consider. For marketing purposes, they have little to do with those riding the bus. You’re trying to catch the eye of those passing by, so placement and visibility are key. Here are some things to think about:
- Cross streets: You want your bench signs near places where traffic needs to slow and stop. When people in the car get bored, they’ll look around and see your advertising.
- Hills: When drivers must go up or down hills, they’re forced to pay more attention to their surroundings, which can be good for sign visibility. On long, straight shots of road, they don’t have to concentrate as much on what’s along the street.
- Where people live: Pick locations on popular travel routes. You want your bench signs turned toward the in- or out-flow from neighborhoods.
- Where people go: Some of our bench signs are at strip malls, heavy intersections and even a zoo. These will probably be viewed by folks outside our immediate customer zone; but if nearby competitors are full, the signage will still get their attention.
- Bench angle: You can sometimes adjust the angle of the bench to be seen by more motorists. For example, we have a sign on a four-way corner in front of a Subway sandwich shop that can be seen from three directions. With a speed limit of 35 miles per hour, this bench gets good impressions.
- Distance from intersection: Even a desirable intersection can have visibility challenges. The further a bench is from the intersection, the less it’s likely to be viewed.
- Visuals: Keep your signage simple. The more detailed you get, the less likely your message will be communicated in the short time a person sees it. One of our benches, which is just down the street from our facility, just has a directional arrow pointing toward the property. Another promotes a discount for first responders.
- Proximity to competitors. Take advantage of real estate near your competition. Four of our new bench signs are directly in front of competing facilities, while a fifth is a block away from another.
When I first set out to research bus-stop signage, I underestimated the complexities. Much like running a self-storage business, it seems simple on the surface. Now that I’ve invested in some placements, I realize the strategies you can deploy are a lot like playing chess. It’s great fun!
Henry Clark is owner of Clark Storage LLC, which operates seven self-storage facilities in Iowa and one in Nebraska. The family-run business includes Clark’s wife, Sandy, and son, Ryan. To reach him, call 402.618.6595.